Australian citizen David Hicks suffered torture and brutal beatings at the hands of guards at Guantanamo prison. Breaking the gag order that was a condition of his release, Hicks spoke to RT about his ordeal and how he was coerced into pleading guilty.
38-year-old David Hicks spent over five years in Guantanamo Prison accused of aiding terrorists. He was eventually convicted under the 2006 Military Commissions Act for “providing material support to terrorism” and released in 2007 after pleading guilty. Hicks has filed to have the convictions overturned, alleging his plea was made under duress and he had no other choice but to confess.
During his six years at Guantanamo, Hicks says he was subjected to both mental and psychological torture, forced to take injections and brought to the brink of suicide by the prison staff.
“Myself and everyone else were tortured on a daily basis,” Hicks said. “That ranges from typical physical beatings to a whole range of psychological ploys. There was medical experimentation that was very scary to be subjected to.”
The staff at Guantanamo forced inmates to take pills and injections, and they would face beatings if they resisted, Hicks said. The prisoners were never informed as to the nature of the drugs they were made to take.
Hicks said that being white and Australian gave him a privileged position in the prison, allowing him to avoid some of the physical abuse that went on.
“Being white and, more importantly, English being my first language, that allowed me to communicate with the guards and probably talk my way out of being beaten and tortured more – this is the guards, so it’s separate to interrogation – versus some of the Arabs and Afghans, who couldn’t speak English at all.”
He described the guards as having “no patience” and when they were frustrated they would beat the inmates until their “bones were broken.”
“Once the detainee was beaten and removed, they’d have to use hoses and scrubbing brushes to remove the blood from the cement floor,” Hicks said.
After almost five years of imprisonment in Guantanamo, Hicks said he had lost the ability “to fight, to have hope, to believe that justice would prevail” and was contemplating suicide.
“Guantanamo is sort of this black hole where supposedly no laws apply except what they decide.”
Setting the record straight
When he was finally offered the chance to leave the prison it came with a price. Australian Prime Minister John Howard sent a message to Hicks’ lawyer, saying that “under no circumstances” would the Australian government allow him to return without entering into some sort of plea.
Hicks was subsequently given the opportunity to sign an Alford Plea – a piece of US legislation that allows a defendant to plead guilty, but without admitting guilt to a particular crime. Upon agreeing to the plea, Hicks was told he would be freed in 60 days.
“I ended up taking that deal, knowing that I could get out in 60 days and back to Australia and deal with it,” said Hicks, who still maintains his innocence.
When he returned to Australia he was put into isolation in an Adelaide prison and had a gagging order placed on him, forbidding him from talk about his experience in Guantanamo.
Six years on, however, Hicks is moving to set the record straight and clear his name of the charges that he claims are legally invalid.
Hicks referred to the case of Salim Hamdan, a Yemeni national also charged with providing material support to terrorists who had the charges overturned after an appeal in a federal court. The court ruled in his favor on the basis that the 2006 Military Commissions Act, under which the charges were made, was flawed and unconstitutional.
“Material support for terrorism is not a recognized crime and if it was, it was applied retroactively anyway,” said Hicks, describing his appeal as a “formality.”
The Northern Alliance in Afghanistan captured David Hicks in 2001 and handed him over to American jurisdiction for a $1,000 bounty. Hicks, a convert to Islam, admitted that he had trained in an al-Qaeda paramilitary camp during his time in Afghanistan, but maintains he never participated in terrorist activities.
An independent report has charged that medical personnel, working under the direction of the Department of Defense and CIA in military defense facilities, violated medical ethics by participating in the torture of detainees.
The services provided by American doctors and psychologists included “designing, participating in, and enabling torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment” of detainees, according to the report.
The 19-member task force concluded that since September 11, 2001, the Department of Defense (DoD) and CIA ordered medical professionals to assist in intelligence gathering, as well as forced-feeding of hunger strikers, in a way that inflicted “severe harm” on detainees in US custody.
The authors of the 269-page report, entitled “Ethics Abandoned: Medical Professionalism and Detainee Abuse in the ‘War on Terror’” is based on information from unclassified, publicly available information.
The task force revealed that a “theory of interrogation” emerged in US detention facilities, including Guantanamo Bay detention camp, that was based on “personality disintegration” as a means of breaking down the resistance of the detainees in an effort to extract confessions and information.
Over time, new interrogation methods were developed by interrogators and psychologists from techniques used in the pre-9/11 Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (SERE) program that was designed for training US troops to withstand interrogation and mistreatment techniques in the event they were captured.
The interrogators and medical professionals transformed torture-resistant tactics into abusive methods of interrogation, which they employed on detainees. This included so-called ‘enhanced interrogation’ techniques, such as waterboarding, which involves covering a restrained detainee’s face with a towel and then soaking it with water. The technique is said to induce a feeling of drowning and complete helplessness.
The detainees are not permitted to receive treatment for the mental anguish caused by their torture.
The report also gave special mention to the Bush administration, which declared that the legal safeguards regarding the treatment of prisoners of war set down in the Geneva Convention did not apply to the “unlawful combatants” (i.e. terrorists) in the War on Terror.
The lack of any judicial restraints on the part of the military and medical personnel involved opened the door to “cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment” of prisoners at GITMO under both the Bush and Obama administrations.
Task Force member, Dr. Gerald Thomson, Professor of Medicine Emeritus at Columbia University, said physicians violated medical code of conduct by willingly becoming “agents of the military.”
“The American public has a right to know that the covenant with its physicians to follow professional ethical expectations is firm regardless of where they serve,” Dr. Thomson said in a released statement. “It’s clear that in the name of national security the military trumped that covenant, and physicians were transformed into agents of the military and performed acts that were contrary to medical ethics and practice.”
The medical community has “a responsibility to make sure this never happens again,” he added.
The authors cited a number of sources that informed their study, including recently published accounts of force-feeding hunger-striking detainees, a 2008 Senate report on the treatment of terrorists in custody, and a Red Cross probe of CIA interrogation measures that was leaked to the New York Times.
Dr. Thomson summarized the feelings of many people when he called the participation of physicians in the torture and interrogation of detainees a “big striking horror.”
“This covenant between society and medicine has been around for a long, long time — patient first, community first, society first, not national security, necessarily,” he continued. “If we just ignore this and satisfy ourselves with the (thought that), ‘Well, they were trying to protect us,’ when it does happen again we’ll all be complicit in that.”
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Department of Defense, Lt. Col. J. Todd Breasseale, reviewed the charges contained in the report and called them “wholly absurd.”
“The health care providers at the Joint Strike Force who routinely provide not only better medical care than any of these detainees have ever known, but care on par with the very best of the global medical profession, are consummate professionals working under terrifically stressful conditions, far from home and their families, and with patients who have been extraordinarily violent,” Breasseale told NBC News.
Arthur Caplan, head of the division of medical ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center, said the medical personnel working at Gitmo may believe they are doing something valuable for society.
“What I’ve seen over the years is that people (doctors) who don’t want to do that, don’t. They find ways to avoid it, get out of it, or get reassigned,” Caplan told NBC News. “But for someone who does it, that doctor’s impulse may be to say: ‘I want to fight terrorism. I want to get information that protects the American people.’ They think they’re doing the right thing.”
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights says there has been “systematic violation of human rights” at the notorious US-run Guantanamo prison in Cuba.
“The information we have indicates that there was a general and systematic violation of human rights” at Guantanamo, said Rodrigo Escobar Gil, one of the seven commissioners at the Washington-based body.
The commission also called on the US government to explain the alleged abuses, especially the force-feeding of prisoners on hunger strike.
Protesting harsh conditions and indefinite detention without charge or trial, Guantanamo prisoners began a hunger strike in early February, which US authorities say ended in late September.
Images from the detention center published in June showed how prisoners were force fed by military guards, being strapped to a metal restraint chair and fed through the nose with plastic tubing.
In July, a federal judge ruled that the practice of force-feeding the Guantanamo hunger strikers amounted to torture, but said she did not have the jurisdiction to stop the practice.
Escobar Gil, who described force-feeding at Guantanamo as “cruel and inhumane treatment,” said the IACHR’s requests for visits to the prison complex without pre-conditions have all been rejected by US authorities.
“We have reports of torture and degrading treatment. But all our requests for visits without conditions have been denied. We want to know when they are going to allow visits without pre-conditions,” he said.
Shutting down Guantanamo was a central theme of Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008 as he acknowledged that the detention camp was a symbol of the US government’s violation of human rights.
“I was subjected to the sounds of a woman screaming, I was led to believe that my wife was being tortured,” Moazzam Begg, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee has shared with RT.
The former inmate has shed light on some of the torturous detention techniques at Guantanamo. They include, being cavity searched and given directions on how to commit suicide.
Despite being physically and psychologically tortured by the guards in the US prison, Begg says prisoners find it in themselves to forgive the soldiers.
RT: What was your own stay like at the prison?
Moazzam Begg: Most of my time was spent in solitary confinement which meant being in a a cell that measured 6 foot by 8 foot which was windowless at that time, I did not have access to any meaningful communication with my family, I had no knowledge whether I was ever going to get charged or not, which I was not. At that time no lawyers were allowed. So for two and a half years there was no concept of facing any legal proceedings. But now the situation has changed a lot.
RT: During that time would you claim that you were tortured or abused?
MB: I say that everybody who’s been held in Guantanamo has been tortured or abused in one way. When I was first taken into custody, it was the most torturous process I think that any person can imagine. It meant being stripped naked, it meant your body being searched, cavity searched as they called it. Having your hair shaved off, being punched and kicked and being spat upon. On one occasion it was in background facility before I went to Guantanamo, I was subjected to the sounds of a woman screaming, I was led to believe that my wife was being tortured. So everybody in a sense is being tortured and the worst sort of torture is the psychological of course sort in which you are in solitary confinement torture unable to know what you have done for which you’re paying the ultimate price which is your freedom.
RT: One prisoner claims that he and others have been sexually assaulted during searches. Have you ever witnessed anything like that?
MB: Certainly, every prisoner will say that he has had invasive cavity searches. Across the board 779 men if you were to ask them, did this happen to them, they would say yes it happened to us at various junctures of detention. The particular prisoner, his name is Younous Chekkouri , he is from Morocco, is saying precisely this, but of course it is a violation of his dignity. I believe that the term rape has been used in a broader sense, meaning that objects have been inserted into a person which are extremely painful and degrading too.
RT: We’ve heard an ex-military official say the prison’s a recruiting ground for al-Qaeda. Would you agree?
MB: It is bizarre, President Obama has recently visited Robben Island and he actually was in a cell where Nelson Mandela was. He actually wrote in the visitor’s book that nothing could break the strength of the human spirit, not even shackles or chains. But he forgot to add – unless you happened to be in our shackles and chains and in our cells. Of course, this is the sort of thing that will make people angry. But if you look at over 600 prisoners that have been released from Guantanamo, almost everybody has returned not to begin a life of terrorism or recidivism, as they call it, but actually stretch out their hands toward former Guantanamo soldiers, guards and interrogators. I had former Guantanamo guards coming to my house and meet the children that they prevented me from seeing when they were born. This is the sort of nature of the Guantanamo prisoners, we are extremely forgiving.
RT: It seems that hunger strikers in Guantanamo are prepared to die. Did you think you’d die there?
MB: I think many times that the administration there suggested to us, I was just once told that I had a thought about committing a suicide and they told me how I could commit suicide if I felt so down. Clearly the prisoners have moved along since that point, but clearly prisoners have died, nine people have died in Guantanamo. If the hunger strikes continue in the way that they are, then force-feeding is not the solution. The solution is to give them justice and that is the reason why they are doing it. They are not doing it because of all the abuses, those are peripheral, they are doing it because they have been held for almost 12 years now without charge or trial in any legal, normative system.
- Obama’s “illusion of movement” on Guantanamo (alethonews.wordpress.com)
President Obama may pledge to finally close Guantanamo’s doors, but all his words are just an illusion, while prisoners are suffering at the notorious detention facility.
Human rights lawyer David Remes, who represents 17 Guantanamo detainees has been talking to RT.
RT: President Obama has made numerous promises over the years to close Guantanamo Bay prison. Is it likely to happen?
David Remes: I don’t see how it can happen under the current circumstances. For one thing, President Obama keeps blaming Congress for preventing him from transferring detainees. As long as he puts responsibility on Congress, it’s unlikely that he will make major moves. In addition, he’s set up this new system for releasing Yemenis, whereby they have to go through another review process, which is likely to take a long time if it happens at all. So I think what he said sounded good, as usual, but, once again, it only provides the illusion of movement. The men face a very bleak circumstance in Guantanamo in terms of being transferred.
RT: Has the hunger strike involving over a hundred detainees influenced the pledge to close the facility?
DR: I haven’t talked to anyone yet, I’m going to speak to a couple of them tomorrow afternoon. But I imagine, based on what we’ve discussed in the past, that this was all a big snooze to them. Obama has no credibility down there. The men even say that they prefer Bush because he released detainees. I think this will be disregarded or just snorted at with cynicism.
RT: Some inmates from Yemen have already been cleared for release – but what about those from other countries?
DR: There are about thirty other detainees, from other countries, who have been approved for transfer. About half of them can be sent home to their own countries, but about half have to be re-settled in third countries because of concerns about torture in their own countries. Ambassador Dan Fried who has been appointed to place the detainees was on the verge to transfer these men when Congress stepped in, and that’s basically why his office was closed. They are the most promising candidates for transfer, but I don’t really think it’s going to happen very soon.
RT: In the event of Guantanamo actually closing, is it likely Washington will use other secret detention centers?
DR: If they are secret, we don’t know about them. I’m not trying to be flip about it. I also don’t think that the US is using secret centers – although obviously, if they are secret, I don’t know for sure. I think they may be handing men over to countries of origin or we may be just drowning these people instead of imprisoning them.
Guantanamo (Joshua Nistas/US Army)
President Barack Obama’s address yesterday on U.S. terror strategies got a lot of attention for supposedly charting a new course in America’s longest war. But some of the facts were mangled along the way.
On CBS Evening News (5/23/13), reporter Major Garrett stated that
Obama urged Congress to close the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. To that end, he will seek permission to send 86 of the 166 jailed terror suspects already cleared for release to other countries.
Those 86 prisoners have not been, and will not be, charged with any crime whatsoever; they are not “terror suspects.” Garrett’s statement was all the more awkward considering that it came right before CBS played a clip of Obama saying this:
Imagine a future, 10 years from now, or 20 years from now–when the United States of America is still holding people who have been charged with no crime on a piece of land that is not a part of our country.
To refer to “people who have been charged with no crime” as “terror suspects” is simply Orwellian. Garrett went on to say:
An intelligence report in January, Scott, found that fewer than 5 percent of those detainees released since 2009 have rejoined the fight.
That is indeed the language used in the government’s accounting of former Guantanamo detainees–and the definition of “re-enagaging” has been narrowed considerably since the Bush years. Reporters have taken some of this Pentagon propaganda on this issue at face value in the past, which should be all the more reason to continue to be skeptical. If someone has been imprisoned without charge or trial for a number of years, can one plausibly claim that they have “returned” to committing crimes that they were never charged with in the first place?
Mr. Obama said he was lifting a moratorium he imposed on sending detainees to Yemen, where a new president has inspired more faith in the White House that he would not allow recidivism.
Again, these are prisoners cleared for release because they cannot be charged with any crimes. It is bizarre to seriously discuss the threat that they might go back to committing crimes there’s no apparent evidence that they’ve ever taken part in.
Each inmate at the US’ notorious Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, dubbed as the most expensive jail on Earth, costs Washington some $900,000 annually, a report says.
According to the Pentagon’s estimate, it spends around $150 million every year to run the prison and military court system at the US Naval Base in Cuba, Reuters said in a report on Friday.
With 166 prisoners who are currently in custody in Guantanamo Bay prison, the report adds, that amounts to an annual cost of $903,614 for each inmate.
Meanwhile, analysts say super-maximum security prisons in the US spend about $60,000 to $70,000 at most to keep their inmates.
The cost argument comes at a time when the severe budget-cutting process known as ‘sequestration’ is slated to slash some $109 billion in US spending up to the end of September 2013. It has also cut government services small and large.
“It’s extremely inefficient,” said Ken Gude, chief of staff and vice president at the liberal Center for American Progress think tank. He has followed developments at Guantanamo Bay prison since 2005.
“That … may be what finally gets us to actually close the prison. I mean the costs are astronomical, when you compare them to what it would cost to detain somebody in the United States,” Gude added.
He further said although it is difficult to say how much the US has spent overall on the infamous prison, “it is certainly more than $1 billion by a comfortable margin, I would say, probably more than $2 billion.”
Most of the 166 detainees being held at the jail have been cleared for release or were never charged – a situation that has attracted outcry from certain countries and human rights organizations.
Detainees began the hunger strike in February to protest against prison conditions and the detainees’ indefinite confinement. The strike has led to the force-feeding of nearly two dozen of the captives via tubes snaked up their nose and into their stomach.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has urged the US President Barack Obama’s administration to mend the situation in Guantanamo that has compelled prisoners to starve themselves, saying that the act of force-feeding is akin to torture.
US President Barack Obama today condemned the Guantanamo Bay prison camp run by US President Barack Obama, channeling the moral outrage last heard on the 2008 campaign trail.
“The idea that we would still detain forever a group of individuals that have not been tried, that is contrary to who we are, that is contrary to our interests and it has to stop,” the president said during a press conference at the White House.
The rhetoric was bold and progressive. The reality? At least half of 166 never-tried, never-convicted prisoners that reside at Guantanamo Bay are engaged in a hunger strike that is making the president look bad. And so the man with a kill list who is ultimately responsible for them being there – and who’s initial plan for closing the prison was simply moving it to Illinois – had to act as if he was deeply troubled by his poor human rights record, like an oil executive shedding tears for Mother Earth after a big spill.
What Obama is banking on is the fact that most people (including his base) aren’t terribly detail oriented. The tale liberal Democrats tell themselves, and which the liberal media tells the rest of us, is that the fight over Guantanamo Bay is Obama and a bunch of ACLU lawyers on one side, the forces of fear-mongering, reactionary insanity on the other. The president, it is to be understood, is facing irrational hostility from the Chicken Littles of the right and would like to the do the right thing — of course he would — but, you know: Republicans.
That narrative, unfortunately, is false. The true story, obfuscated by the president’s occasional condemnations of his own human rights record, is that Obama himself signed an executive order creating “a formal system of indefinite detention for those held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay.” Rather than repudiate the notion of “detain[ing] forever a group of individuals that have not been tried,” Obama (through a task force he commissioned) determined that 48 of the prison camp’s detainees were “too dangerous to transfer but not feasible for prosecution.” The evidence against those men would not be admissible even by the weakened standards of a military court – that is, it was probably gained through torture – but rather than release them, as if they were persons endowed with certain inalienable rights, the Obama administration would prefer to lock them away until they die.
The president has even refused to release dozens of Yemeni citizens who have been cleared of all wrongdoing. Obama also signed (and his lawyers later defended in court) a bill that allows for the indefinite detention of US citizens. And let’s not forget that kill list, which is based on the idea that it’s alright for the president to act as judge, jury and executioner, so long as the unilateral justice is being delivered abroad. So when the president of the United States righteously condemns the idea of imprisoning someone forever without charge or trial, it’s important to remember the truth about his record. It’s important to remember he is lying.
Washington’s failure to close Guantanamo and release indefinitely held detainees is a “clear breach of international law,” UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said in a statement on Friday, as the “desperate” hunger strike nears two months.
Calling the ongoing Guantanamo Bay prison hunger strike a “desperate,” but “scarcely surprising” act, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed her “deep disappointment” of the US government’s inability to keep to its four-year-old pledge to shut down the controversial prison.
“We must be clear about this, the United States is in clear breach not just of its own commitments but also of international laws and standards that it is obliged to uphold,” Pillay said in a statement.
She condemned “the continuing indefinite incarceration of many of the detainees,” saying it “amounts to arbitrary detention,” and thus violates international law.
Pillay also said it undermines the US’ stance of a human rights “upholder,” and reminded that when other countries breach human rights standards, the US is the first to strongly criticize them for it.
According to Pillay, about half of the 166 Guantanamo detainees have been cleared for transfer either to home countries or third countries for resettlement, but haven’t been released. The other half may be doomed to keep “festering” in detention for an indefinite period of time, she added.
Of the 166 detainees, which come from 23 different countries, only nine have been charged or convicted of crimes.
According to official reports, some forty inmates have joined the current hunger strike in protest against their indefinite detention, which has already been going on for 59 days. The prisoners claim the number of those taking part is close to 130.
Some of the hunger strike participants are being force fed with liquid nutrients by means of tubes inserted through their noses into their stomachs, to counteract alarming weight loss.
The US military has started the forced feeding- a process the UN has compared to torture- despite opposition from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) monitoring the prisoners’ condition. Military officials have also denied mistreating the prisoners, or breaking internationally recognized laws, saying that an “alternate narrative simply do not withstand intellectual rigor” as cited by Reuters.
President Obama “has not taken the necessary steps… when he had the power to” in connection with the release of Guantanamo detainees and prison closure, and is not using his “full powers” now that the process is blocked by a number of factors, Jonathon Hafetz, professor at the Seton Hall University School of Law told RT.
“You have the military continuing to press for holding detainees and use military commissions, rather than regular courts. Particularly, you have Congress, which has placed very onerous restrictions on transferring detainees to other countries, including detainees who the White House has cleared for transfer,” Hafetz said, speaking of the obstacles in the way of the infamous prison abolition.
There’s no doubt that international law is being broken in a number of respects in Guantanamo, Hafetz added.
The US has been violating international law by the “indefinite detention of individuals who don’t pose the risk of a threat,” and the prosecution in military tribunals have charged for offenses like “material support for terrorism or conspiracy,” which are not recognized as war crimes under international law, the lawyer said.
“The absence of accountability for the torture and the other abuses that occurred at Guantanamo is another violation of international law – the state has a duty to investigate and prosecute offences, and the US has not done that,” Hafetz added.
- Human rights watchdogs turn blind eye on Gitmo hunger strikers (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Activists join Guantanamo hunger strike in week of fast (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Hundreds of prisoners of the US War of Terror languish in prisons around the world, in Guantanamo and on the US mainland. Some have been there as long as 12 years, some have sentences that extend beyond the span of their life; many have never been charged with a crime and more than half the prisoners who remain in Guantanamo have had their original charges dropped or have served their full sentence, but are barred by US law from being repatriated to their homeland and therefore can not be released. Even the few prisoners in Guantanamo who are considered ‘high value’ are mostly charged with thought crimes, plans that were never carried out in any significant detail. In many cases, the leads that initially brought them to the attention of the FBI or CIA have proved to be inaccurate.
Amina Masood Janjua is a Pakistani woman whose husband was abducted from the streets of Rawalpindi by Pakistani President Musharraf’s thugs shortly after 9/11. Masood Janjua was an honest citizen going about his business, and his wife has been looking for him ever since. He wasn’t the only one picked up this way, but his wife Amina was the one who started an organization to advocate for the hundreds of men disappeared in Pakistan after 911. In the early days of the War on Terror, hundreds of men were pulled from the streets and countryside of Pakistan to feed the US government’s insatiable appetite for Terrorists. Some were sent directly to Guantanamo; some were moved here and there before being sent to Guantanamo; some were deposited more or less permanently in one of several prisons at the US base in Bagram, in a secret prison in Pakistan or somewhere else in Libya, Syria, Thailand elsewhere into a secret array of American prisons. Teenagers have been picked up on the Afghan border and sold to ‘the Americans’ as terrorists, who must have figured out it wasn’t true in some cases because 50 of them remain in the Bagram prison though after 5-10 years they have never been charged with a crime.
And then there are the residents of the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) in Pakistan, subject to ongoing surveillance, missile strikes and bombings by U.S. Predator drones. The FATA is something like a combination of Pine Ridge Reservation with Gaza. Indigenous peoples who live there have, since the British Raj, been allowed to keep their tribal culture and their ‘sovereignty’ in exchange for giving up their rights as citizens of Pakistan. They are governed by a Federal Agent who makes final decisions on the distribution of social resources, food, medicine and guns, and who oversees the tribal justice system with the power to intervene at any time, pass judgement on any individual and determine a sentence. Currently, due to the ongoing violence that has spilled over from the Afghan war (Taliban on the ground and drone strikes from above), citizens of Pakistan from outside the region are not permitted to enter the FATA region, and those who live there cannot leave without passing through government checkpoints. Not surprisingly, they are generally apprehended by their fellow countrymen with fear and loathing, and pity.
One hundred and sixty six men remain in Guantanamo. There are a handful of so called ‘high value’ prisoners whose cases are deemed to be related to actual terrorist attacks. But all were severely tortured at secret prisons when first detained, and a number of them have cases based on crimes that were nothing more than loose talk, association with the wrong people and/or claims that are clearly contradicted by the evidence that has unfolded while they were in custody. Eighty Six of them have been cleared for release, but are retained in detention for political reasons. At least 28, but possibly over 100 of the prisoners are on a life threatening hunger strike. They are choosing death over spending the rest of their lives in torment. At this time, 11 are being force-fed. Even death is denied them. Their lawyers, who complained on their behalf, have been denied access to them. Non-military flights to Guantanamo have been canceled. The office created by Obama in the early days of his presidency to close Guantanamo has itself been closed, and new monies have been allocated to expand the Guantanamo Prison facilities.
In the US ‘homeland’, Muslims, including immigrants and African Americans from impoverished neighborhoods; people who are naive, ignorant, immature, along with recent immigrants whose cultural habits and political stances do not fit a jingoistic standard of normalcy and patriotism, are accused of thought crimes or manipulated into participating in fake crimes after being targeted for sting operations that resemble the cons used to part old people, the disabled or other potentially needy or naive people from their money, then incarcerated with lengthy sentences made possible by a so called ‘terrorism enhancement’ to whatever ‘crime’ they are alleged to have committed.
Men like Yassin Aref, a Kurdish refugee from Northern Iraq, have been targeted due to possible social contacts made in their home countries and imprisoned for long periods of time despite having committed no crime. Yassin’s name and phone number were found in a private phone book picked up in ‘terrorist hideout’ near his home town after it was bombed by American forces during the Iraq War. Could someone there have known him? Of course, this is a land of small villages where everyone is connected one way or the other. Like many college students, Yassin worked for a political organization which promised sovereignty for his Kurdish homeland, a popular stance in Kurdistan, particularly after the scorched earth policies of Saddam Hussein in the region. Yassin gave rides once or twice to a man who was later designated a ‘terrorist’ by the US government.
Meanwhile dozens of immigrants and poor African Americans, who constitute the majority of indigenous Muslims in this country, have been targeted, manipulated into committing or attempting to commit a crime, then imprisoned as terrorists. Men desperate or naive enough to take the provocateur’s bait, are conned and confused and recorded for the convenience of the courts by provocateurs who profit handsomely from their work. The provocateurs, often petty criminals, are bankrolled by the FBI, moved from job to job when they are successful and absolved of any prior or concurrent crimes they may commit. Not a bad deal for a sociopath with a criminal record and a taste for good living.
In one unusual case, a Pakistani National named Aafia Siddiqui, a woman who had lived in the US for more than 10 years during which she earned a PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience (the physical underpinnings of learning), was abducted in Pakistan near her parents home, where she had been staying, and incarcerated somewhere in Afghanistan or Pakistan, later released in the Afghan city of Ghazni, only to be immediately rearrested, was later convicted of a crime that she may or may not have committed in attempting to escape after the second arrest. I say ‘may or may not have committed’ because the testimony against her is not corroborated by a single iota of material evidence. The original charges against her, which date back to a time shortly preceding her arrest in Pakistan, seem to be based on the testimony of one or more high profile 9/11 suspects who may have met her at some point or may have been told her name by their interrogators, and the testimony of an abusive ex-husband.
Saturday, March 30th, was the anniversary of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui’s initial abduction. There is a lot of mystery around this event, and the American Government persists in denying they held her for the 5 years that she was missing. However, Aafia Siddiqui had her 3 young children with her at the time of their abduction. When the middle child, Miriam, who was 4 years old at the time of her abduction, was dropped off near her mother’s family home in Karachi shortly after the time of her trial, she spoke only American English. The older boy, 6 or 7 at the time of his abduction, was with her Dr. Siddiqui when she was arrested the 2nd time in Ghazni, but she did not appear to recognize him. He too is now living with his Grandmother and Aunt in Karachi. He has required special support to deal with with traumatic memories of years in prisons, and has needed surgeries to realign his hips, dislocated and misaligned due to long periods in restraints during a time of rapid growth. The baby, less than a few months old at the time of their disappearance in March 2003, has not been seen since.
The U.S. authorities adamantly deny having held Dr. Siddiqui prior to her arrest in Ghazni in 2008. However, they also contend that, after being shot and mortally wounded by U.S. soldiers (in self defense), she unleashed a verbal torrent off vulgar anti-American expletives in English, wherein the word “F*#!” appeared more than once. This, admittedly unseemly, behavior would seem very odd if she really had not been in the company of Americans for the previous 5 years. Had she been in hiding in a remote Baloch village with the womenfolk, or dealing daily with conservative Islamist clerics, plotting the ruin of the United States, a country where she had lived for most of her adult life, and where, if not a citizen, she was engaged in numerous good works and charitable projects, where, in fact, she is accused of wanting to convert as many people as possible to her beloved Islam, would she have the habit of expressing outrage in the common vernacular of the United States?
There were a number of psychological analyses prior to Dr. Siddiqui’s trial because of her paranoia and inability to relate appropriately to her surroundings. Initially, she was declared incompetent to stand trial but later, based on new testimony and the reversal of the state psychologist’s initial report the decision was set aside. The psychologist who changed his mind testified that, after he saw the government denial that they had ever held her, he came to the conclusion that she was a malingerer rather than a person suffering severe PTSD, as in his initial conclusion. Dr. Siddiqui’s family and her lawyers all firmly believe her story. Evidence, including the return of her daughter and and some memories that her son has, along with testimony by the Pakistani government official responsible for her initial abduction, has emerged to support her claims.
Dr. Siddiqui was convicted by a jury on all counts but without premeditation. And yet, the judge sentenced her with the ‘terrorism enhancement’ to 86 years, more than the future length of her life for crimes that would normally entail a 10-12 year sentence. The chain of accusations on which the terrorism enhancement was based were not clearly articulated in court as charges, and therefore could not be challenged. Dr. Siddiqui is currently incarcerated in Carswell Medical Center in Texas, a hospital prison with a record of patient abuse. Letters sent to her are returned. Calls are not received.
The prison says that she refuses all of her mail and her phone calls. Given her state of despair at the time of her conviction, it is possible this is true. However, it would seem questionable in light of the way the mental health issues were handled at her trial. A healthy person would not refuse all mail and phone calls. If she is psychologically disturbed enough to be doing that, then she should not have been deemed competent to stand trial at that time as she was not malingering. Even if she were disturbed at the time of her trial, a retreat from all outside contact would indicate a deterioration in her condition and an environment not conducive to the restoration of her mental health. I suppose a sentence in a mental hospital that lasts as long as twice your remaining lifespan would fit that description, but is it not a cruel and unusual punishment? And then again, maybe they are stretching the truth to hide a different kind of cruel and unusual treatment.
Nearly twelve years have passed since 9/11/01 when the US began building the myth of a fanatical gang of international terrorists targeting the United States with mayhem and murder. After seven years of fear and loathing, a new president came into office on a wave of hope. Yet, Guantanamo is still open for business and the remaining residents are farther than ever from release, as are most of the CIA Black Sites. Rendering of prisoners is rare, but the program still exists. U.S. Drone attacks in the FATA have increased exponentially, while only a handful of the ‘disappeared’ have been returned to their families. When Bagram is returned to the Afghans, the unindicted Pakistani youth will remain in the custody of their American jailers. New cases based on FBI sting operations are regularly heard in the Federal Courts resulting in convictions and unusually lengthy sentences, often in Communication Management Units where the prisoners are held in virtual solitary confinement at locations far removed from their families. The Obama White House has released formal justifications for executing American citizens without trial.
Dr. Aafia Siddiqui remains in Carswell FMC where she has been joined by Lynne Stewart, a 73 year old America lawyer who has selflessly defended the poor and the disenfranchised and those who have been fodder for the FBI terrorist franchise throughout her career. Lynne Stewart, convicted of a technical legal violation in her defense of one of her clients, was sentenced to more than 10 years in prison. Currently, she is suffering from stage 4 cancer, but the authorities say she cannot have a ‘compassionate release’ for treatment. It will only be available when they are sure she is going to die within a few months. I guess it is an equal opportunity victory that at least 2 women have joined the thousands of men tortured and persecuted in this War of Terror.
But here in the land of democracy and freedom, where we preach about opportunity for all, where we righteously condemn other countries for unequal treatment of women, where we talk endlessly about freedom and justice, it’s time we take a look at what is really going on and who we really are. Perhaps then we will set aside ‘hope’ and start thinking about active change. Until then we are all prisoners of The War on Terror.
Judy Bello is active with the Upstate (NY) Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars. She traveled to Pakistan with the CodePink Peace Delegation last Fall. The Coalition is planning, Resisting Drones, Global War and Empire, a weekend of networking, education and action in Syracuse, NY April 26-28. You can learn more about the weekend events at http://upstatedroneaction.org
They are essentially dead men who just happen to breathe. That is the grim assessment of the legal representative for the inmates in the American concentration camp, otherwise known as Guantanamo Bay.
More than 11 years after this penal colony was opened on the American-occupied territory of Cuba, there remain some 166 prisoners who live in a nightmarish world of indefinite detention.
Hundreds of others have been ground through the machine, spewed out like human waste. Denial of human freedom is torture; denial of any sense of when that torture ends adds a whole new barbarous dimension of cruelty.
American vanity likes to indulge in berating other countries for human rights violations: Russia, China, North Korea and Iran are paraded in the American media as pariah states, accused of failing international legal standards. In the past, the Soviet Union and its system of gulags was a particular favourite feature for Americans to contrast their supposed freedoms. How the ‘high and mighty’ self-proclaimed moral titans now stand exposed as hypocrites, charlatans and low-life perverts.
Thanks to the suffering of prisoners at Guantanamo, the world is seeing some shocking home truths about the real nature of American government and its formerly grandiose pretensions. Without Guantanamo, the world may have been duped a little longer by the American art of deception. But not anymore. The American style of dictatorship has everything that the old Soviet system had, but with an added insidious trait – the American delusion of exceptionalism.
Think about it. In Guantanamo, they have been rendered from all over the world by their captors like so many wild animals, physically and mentally tortured, humiliated and defiled. Most of them are Muslim, coming from Africa, the Middle East and Asia, where the US has been waging its permanent charade ‘War on Terror’ since 2001.
Such is the cruel vindictiveness of their captor country that these men’s only freedom – to read their holy Korans in the solitude of their cells – has been denied to them. More. Their sacred beliefs have been stomped on. Not only have their captors incarcerated their bodies; their tormentors want to hunt down their victims’ inner-most thoughts. This is taking human barbarity to scientific levels of depravity where the human spirit is sought out to be murdered.
Ninety percent of the Guantanamo hostages – a more appropriate description than ‘inmate’ – have never been charged with any offence. They are being held merely on the basis of suspicion by an American government that has lost all credibility and moral bearing in the eyes of the world.
For nearly 50 days now, 26 of the men at Guantanamo have been on a hunger strike. It is the only freedom left to these men. To refuse the most basic means of subsistence. That length of time without food is pushing the human body into a fatal condition. The muscles have been eaten away now by the body’s own metabolism to survive against deprivation; at this stage, the last vital organ of the brain becomes internally digested.
‘These men have figured out that probably the only way for them to go home – cleared or not – is in a wooden box,’ said their American-military appointed defence lawyer, Lt Col Barry Wingard, in a recent interview with Russia Today.
Wingard, who has been granted only limited access to consult with the prisoners said that he was shocked by the ‘animal cage’ conditions of the men when he last saw them three weeks ago. ‘They will never get a trial based upon the evidence that is against them,’ adds Wingard.
Let’s recap. Hundreds of men – in all probability innocent of suspected wrongdoing – are held for up to 11 years without charge, tortured and denied proper legal support – all perpetrated by the government of the US that proclaims to be the world’s standard bearer of democratic and human rights and international law. This is the same government that has overseen the invasion and illegal occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, murdering millions of innocents, in the name of establishing democracy and international law.
But don’t confuse. Guantanamo is not a vile contradiction of America’s lofty claims. It is in fact a microcosm of the reality of how truly barbaric the American government has become.
Five years ago, when Barack Obama was running for the US presidency, the closure of Guantanamo was a central promise. To the credit of the American people, they voted him into the White House in order to tear down this abomination of human rights and international law and all the associated torture that it represented under Bush and the neocons.
Into his second administration, Obama has reiterated that Guantanamo is here to stay. How is that for a brazen betrayal and snub to democratic demand of the people? Appropriately, Obama has outdone Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Co. The imperialist permanent war on the world is being stepped up and expanded to target Syria, Iran, China and Russia and whomever else dares to stand in the way of American hegemony. Obama’s wielding of secretive executive powers to execute any one, any time, any place in the world exceeds the fantasies of the Bush neocons.
The abomination that is Guantanamo is therefore an important moment of truth as to how far America has gone down the road to all-out fascism.
Ironically, it is men who have been deprived of everything even to the point of death who are exposing this powerful truth.
- Activists join Guantanamo hunger strike in week of fast (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Human rights watchdogs turn blind eye on Gitmo hunger strikers (alethonews.wordpress.com)
In a gesture of solidarity with Guantanamo Bay prisoners, who are continuing their month-long hunger strike, activists across the world have launched a week-long fast. The campaign will also include protest rallies and vigils.
The action, organized by the Guantanamo prisoners support group Witness Against Torture (WAT), began on Sunday and is to last through March 30. Some activists plan to continue fasting every Friday until the prison is closed, the group says.
The fast will be accompanied by public gatherings to protest against the existence of Guantanamo prison and the condition of people held there.
“We will gather for action in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, and other cities domestically and internationally next week to denounce the barbaric practice of torture and indefinite detention and to demand justice for the men at Guantanamo,” WAT says.
The activists also released a list of 166 names of Gitmo detainees, calling on supporters to flood the prison with letters of solidarity and remind the management “that the world has not forgotten the hunger strikers.”
Human rights advocate Andy Worthington believes demonstrations like the recent one are crucial for changing the situation in Guantanamo, stating inactivity “would be a victory” for those whose aim is to keep the prison open.
“Those of us working to close Guantanamo are up against powerful forces of indifference or hostility to our cause, despite the obvious justice of our position. People should not – must not – be put off by this indifference or hostility,” Andy Worthington told RT.
WAT organized similar fasts of solidarity annually since 2010. The group itself was formed back in 2005 and has since been trying to make the US government close the notorious prison through vigils, marches, nonviolent direct action and other measures.
Lawyers of the detainees say more than a hundred of Guantanamo prisoners have been on a hunger strike since early February, with some putting their health at considerable risk. The protest was reportedly caused by mistreatment on the part of the guards, including searches, confiscation of personal items and desecration of Korans.
Guantanamo Bay management has been downplaying the scale of the protest, saying that it considers only a handful of detainees to be genuine hunger strikers.
- Human rights watchdogs turn blind eye on Gitmo hunger strikers (alethonews.wordpress.com)